Best Blu-ray Discs For Home Theater Viewing

As part of my job, I watch a lot of movies to test the audio and video performance of Blu-ray disc players, TVs, video projectors, and receivers. However, not all Blu-ray discs really show off how well a home theater system can perform. Check out a list of some of my favorites for testing and pop in one of these titles the next time you'd like to show off your home theater system's capabilities.

With thousands of movies available on Blu-ray, there are hundreds that provide an exceptional viewing experience. So, to keep the following list manageable, I have included a limited number of my current favorites. The list includes some classic films, as well as current releases that are prime examples of good video and audio quality that you can use to test the limits of your home theater setup.

For more choices, also be sure to also check out my listing of Best 3D Blu-ray discs.

With a story that has been told so many times, it is hard to do something new to attract an audience, but, with its live-action version of their own classic animated classic, Disney has pulled it off.

Emma Watson successfully pulls off the role of Belle, and, although not a strong singer, does a more than credible job that the film requires.

The CGI-supported Beast make-up is excellent, and both the physical and CGI sets present a large scope.

The video presentation is excellent with the complex physical and CGI elements integrated flawlessly. The color palette is extensive and the attention to detail is definitely well executed. The surround sound track, from the music to the sound effects, also adds to the impact of the film. If you were wondering if Disney could pull off the "Be Our Guest" production number as well as it did in the previous animated version - you will be pleasantly surprised.

Two bonus features are segments on how the musical production sequences were made, and behind the scenes footage on how the practical sets and CGI effects were integrated and how motion-capture was used to create the Beast.

This retelling of Beauty and Beast on Blu-ray definitely deserves a spot in your film collection—right along side all the other past versions of this story.

Disney has taken the reins of the Star Wars universe and the first outing is nothing short of spectacular on Blu-ray Disc. Telling the untold story of events surrounding the building of the original Death Star, Rogue One features an ensemble cast, led by Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso) that has the unenviable task of finding and stealing the Death Star plans.

The film is non-stop excitement, concluding with an ending sequence that will blow your socks off. The video transfer is excellent - with the CGI effects seamlessly integrated with the live action elements. In addition, the Blu-ray also includes an excellent DTS HD-Master Audio soundtrack.

After watching this film, you will ask yourself, "Why didn't they start the original Star Wars Saga with this story, instead of Episode 4: A New Hope?

If you haven't done so yet, add this film to your Blu-ray disc collection.

Quentin Tarantino is definitely one of those filmmakers really knows his craft and each of his films has a special place in the history of cinema. He is also one of a decreasing number of filmmakers that actually still shoots on film instead of digital.

For the Hateful Eight, Tarantino went into the vaults and resurrected some 65-mm film cameras, and visually the results are spectacular. The extra-wide 2.75:1 aspect ratio brings scope to outdoor shots and interior framing rarely seen since the 1959 version of Ben Hur.

As usual, Tarantino presents a story full of twists and turns - where no one, and nothing, is really what it appears to be. With an excellent ensemble cast, headed up by Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson, the story meticulously plays out to ultimate absurdity, where nothing ends up the way you think it will.

The DTS-HD Master audio 5.1 channel soundtrack provides a lot of aggressive surround elements that will give your home theater system the proper workout. As for the music park, Tarantino enlisted the aid of Ennio Morricone, the famed composer of many Spaghetti Westerns - A real treat!

Of course, as with all Quentin Tarantino films, it carries an "R" rating, and his necessary trademark blood-and-guts.

Simple story, little dialog, lots of action and violence. That sums up Mad Max: Fury Road. However, don't let that description fool you into thinking that this is just one insignificant film, it sets a new benchmark for the action movie genre that will hard to beat—and it looks and sounds great—definitely a worthy entry to this list. Settle in for an evening of big screen TV entertainment and turn up the volume.

NOTE: Max Max: Fury Road received six Oscars at the 88th Annual Academy Awards, including Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Make-Up and Hair Styling, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Film Editing.

La La Land is a musical love letter to Hollywood and Los Angeles. Filmed in actual Los Angeles locations, La La Land weaves a tale about two people struggling to make it in the world of movies and music—and as fate would have it, their two lives intersect in a significant way, leading ultimately to a twist at the end that you may not expect.

The film includes a visual feast of well-staged musical numbers. The colors are both well-saturated and bold, and subdued, as the mood of the scene dictates.

The costuming is excellent, as is the detail of the 1080p transfer.

The sound quality is superb, supported by Dolby Atmos immersive surround sound, with easy-to-hear dialog, as well as detailed background sounds.

If you are looking for a great film (6 Academy Award Wins) that puts your system to the test, without explosions and superheroes, then definitely check out La La Land.

Ben-Hur won 11 academy awards in 1960 and is only one of three movies that have done so, along with Titanic, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Now, this epic film is available on Blu-ray in both Limited and Standard Editions. Despite it 1959 original theatrical release date, this film not only holds up in time but the restoration and transfer to Blu-ray makes you think it was just made yesterday.

In addition, the audio, having been originally recorded is revitalized in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 one, with my only suggestion that you turn up your subwoofer one or two db, as the lowest frequencies are more subtle that we are used to today.

Whether you buy the Limited Edition (which also includes a standard definition copy of the 1925 silent version, as well as two hardcover books) or the less expensive Standard Blu-ray Edition, you will experience how a classic film is deserving of the Blu-ray Disc treatment. The only caution is that the film has a very wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio, which means large black bars on the top and bottom of the image, even on a 16x9 TV.

How can a movie that is over 70 years old be an entry on this list? Easy, it was shot in 35mm Technicolor, has been newly-preserved with an 8K resolution (7680x4320 pixels) digital master, and tells a classic story in grand fashion.

The Blu-ray edition of the Wizard of Oz makes itself right at home in your own home theater. Both color (especially the transition from sepia tone to color) and detail (check out the detailed checkerboard pattern on Dorothy's Dress) are outstanding, in fact, better than many of today's films. Also, although the sound quality is dated when compared today's surround sound, you will be surprised how well it does sound. This film reminds us that classic films of years-gone-by can hold their own against today's "blockbusters" if treated with care. 35mm film is HD quality after all.

Note: Since this film was made before widescreen was commonly used, you will see black bars on the left and right side of the image, if viewing on a 16x9 TV or video projector. This is correct; do not change the settings to fill the screen, the shapes will be distorted.

Unbroken is the true-life inspiring story of Louis Zamperini, WWII hero, as brought to the screen by Director Angelina Jolie. The film explores the childhood and WWII experiences of Zamperini in a realistic fashion, with an excellent script, well-directed cast, and cinematography. The film is also mixed in Dolby Atmos but also contains a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 downmixes for those that do not have a Dolby Atmos setup.

In terms of video and presentation on Blu-ray, Unbroken is nearly flawless. The script was intelligent, and the acting was natural and struck just the right tone for the film. Just when you think it might start to reach over-dramatic territory, it pulls back to reality.

Although the film is over two hours, there was definitely more to the story to be told, as it did not go into Zamperini's post-war experiences, including his embracing of Christianity, community work, his return to Japan to meet with some of his former captors, and more, which could have been a great movie on its own.

However, the Blu-ray Disc package includes a 30-minute documentary that provides more details on that portion of Louis Zamperini's life. Also, there is a great short segment spotlighting the pre-and-post war lives of some of Zamperini's other Japanese prison camp mates.

With all the emphasis these days on big screen blockbuster action, super hero, sci-fi, and fantasy movies these days (and believe me, I love'm), it is refreshing to watch a well-made, well presented, historical based film that can touch you on a personal level.

The 10th film to be released on Blu-ray Disc with a Dolby Atmos-encoded soundtrack, and having won an Academy Award for best Sound Editing, this film provides a great home theater viewing experience.

On the video side, American Sniper looks great. The camera work provides a unique perspective on how a sniper sees battlefield conditions, most times through the sight of a rifle. Also, objects, buildings, clothing, and vehicle presented in natural color (not over-saturated).

On the audio side, whether you hear in full Dolby Atmos or Dolby TrueHD, the sound field puts you in the middle of the action, but at the same, is not overly sensationalized. Yes, there are some explosions and lots of gunfire, but it is done with reality in mind. American Sniper is definitely a great test for your home theater system.

I can't really say more about Avatar than has already been said. However, I will say that it definitely deserves a top spot in your Blu-ray disc library. From the opening space arrival scene to the final battle, this film has it all in terms of a video feast for the eyes and excitement for the ears. Whether watching the 3D or 2D Blu-ray version of this film, the main things to take note of are outstanding black levels (the scene where Jake Sully is trapped in the Jungle at night) and the fantastic color layering in the animals, plants, and landscapes presented in the film.

Also, although the soundtrack isn't the "hit-em-over-the-head" variety, it is a great example of well-blended and properly balanced audio mixing, which makes it the perfect complement for the video presentation. Of course, the best way to watch this film is in 3D—the 3D doesn't push you away but draws you into the fantastical world of Pandora that James Cameron created.

This film will be the closest most of us will ever get to experiencing what it is like to be in space. From the blackness of space to incredible views of the Earth's surface, and the claustrophobic space capsule interiors, Gravity delivers one of the most impressive visual and dramatic stories put on film. The Diamond Luxe Edition, spotlighted here, is re-issue that has replaced its previous 5.1 channel DTS-Master Audio soundtrack with a much more effective surround soundtrack that can be heard in either Dolby Atmos or Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (depends on your home theater receiver's capabilities).

Also, there is some new bonus material, including a documentary on how techniques for making space films has evolved in the last 100 years or so.

Bonus materials carried over from the previous Blu-ray Disc release, include a documentary narrated by Ed Harris on the issue of space junk that is crowding near-Earth space, and a short additional scene that shows the other side of a radio communication between Sandra Bullock's character and someone on Earth. Other supplements cover the film's pre-production and production process, as well as some interesting shot breakdowns.

This Blu-ray package is definitely worth the price of admission.

In the tradition of Japanese Kaiju films and Mecha Anime, Guillermo del Toro delivers a tour-de-force monster film that delivers on all fronts on Blu-ray Disc.

The film is visually stunning, despite the pro-ponderous of dark scenes. Both DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and 5.1 channel soundtracks are provided that are active and immersive, with excellent balance between the seven channels and subwoofer. In addition, the bonus features are not be missed. If you like commentaries, director Guillermo del Toro provides detailed insight into the film that is still entertaining to listen to, and the rest of bonus features go into even more detail on how the film was put together.

Although Pacific Rim features just average acting, the ensemble cast and back stories work against the larger-than-life action. The precise production design, seamless integration of practical and GGI elements, dramatic action, and excellent supporting music score delivers a great entertainment experience. This one of the few movies where you actually see all the money on the screen; in this case, $200 million dollars worth.

Pacific Rim didn't set the U.S. box office on fire, coming in at about $100 million, but Worldwide, it pulled in $400 million, which has sparked a forthcoming sequel. In the meantime, I highly recommend Pacific Rim on Blu-ray for your disc collection even if you don't consider yourself a monster movie fan.

If you are looking for a film that has lots of style combined with intense R-rated action, that really gives your home theater system a sonic workout, then John Wick may be a Blu-ray Disc that deserves a space in your collection.

The film stars Keanu Reeves as a former hitman that has left his profession for a happier, mainstream, life, but an unfortunate turn of events force him to return to the seedy underbelly of New York City's hitman culture. Without giving away too much, let's just say that bullets fly and blood splashes with methodically staged fight choreography that is very well done.

Also, as an added bonus, this disc is mastered in Dolby Atmos. So, those that have a Dolby Atmos setup can experience a fully immersive soundtrack. However, even if you don't, your Blu-ray disc player will automatically provide either a Dolby TrueHD 7.1, 5.1, or Dolby Digital 5.1 real-time downmix, depending on the capabilities of your home theater setup.

If you like lots of over-the-top (and sometimes ridiculous) action movies, Mission Impossible Rogue Nation is the movie for you. Right out the gate, the film presents an action scene that you think can't be topped - but it is. Of course, to make the action even more convincing the Blu-ray Disc delivers both excellent video and a Dolby Atmos/TrueHD soundtrack that places you inside the action. Definitely a great work-out and show-off piece for your home theater setup.

The Rock verses the Big One! Dwayne Johnson and company go on the biggest E-ticket ride ever as the San Andreas fault plunges California into complete chaos. The film harkens back to the classic 70's star studded Earthquake (remember "sensurround"?) with up-to-date special effects and sound and the still "cheesy" cliche acting.

However, San Andreas is a great example of how to put a disaster movie on film, the basic thin story and characters aside, this film definitely provides a great workout for your home theater system.

Visually, the detail, along with color balance and contrast range is very good, but in terms of audio, your home theater receiver, subwoofer, and surround speakers will be definitely put to the test, along with the patience of your upstairs or downstairs neighbors (if you have any).

San Andreas is available on both standard and 3D Blu-ray, as well as on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. If you have a compatible Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player and TV, the UHD disc features both Dolby Atmos immersive surround and HDR brightness/contrast enhancement for an even more impressive viewing experience.

The Dark Knight is definitely a modern classic. Both the story and the production are well-executed. The opening bank robbery scene is excellently staged and well photographed. The color and detail are natural, and sound mixing is perfect. In addition, the Dark Knight also lives up to its name in the several excellent night scenes. The night skyline of Gotham City and Hong Kong provide a great test of how well your TV or video projector can render black levels without losing detail. Also, it is important to note that the Dark Knight changes its aspect ratio from 2.40:1 to 1.78:1 in several major action sequences. The reason for this is that portions of the film were shot in IMAX, and the Blu-ray preserves the intent of filmmakers in this area.

If you are looking a great way to give your home theater system are a real workout, check out the release of the entire extended versions of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-ray Disc. Each of the three films ( Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King) takes two discs each and features a DTS-HDMaster Audio 6.1 channel soundtrack, along with multiple audio commentaries for each film.

The only downside is that you do have to get up off the couch and change discs about halfway through each film, but we all need a bathroom and refreshment break. Also, an additional nine discs—all DVDs (that is a total of fifteen discs folks) include bonus features that open up the entire world of "middle earth" from conception to screen with extensive interviews and behind the scenes footage. Some features are carried over from the original extended version DVD sets, and some are new for this release.

The entire Star Wars Saga is available on Blu-ray and is definitely worth the price. The image quality is especially good on the original trilogy, and 6.1 channel surround remix is great. No matter which package you purchase, this is a must own for your Blu-ray collection, not just for the movies, but also for the extensive extra features. Unfortunately, the original theatrical versions of Stars Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are not included.

For an additional preview look at how all the films have been newly tweaked for this Blu-ray release, including aspect ratio framing, color corrections, soundtrack enhancement and the replacement of the "Muppet Yoda" with an all-CGI version in the Phantom Menace, check out the report from Slash Film.

Now that newer Jurassic World film series has hit movie screens, it is time to look back at what started the modern dinosaur film craze—the original Jurassic Park Trilogy.

Give your home theater system a real workout with some great Dinosaur fun. The Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy Blu-ray Disc package is a perfect addition to your Blu-ray disc library. The Ultimate Trilogy package includes restored full high-definition 1080p video, and remastered 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, for all three films in the series (Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Jurassic Park III), and hours of great supplementary material to satisfy any die-hard fan.

Jaws is not only a great film that deserves the Blu-ray Disc treatment, but it is also a landmark in cinema history, as it is credited as being the first true Summer blockbuster. Although Steven Spielberg certainly deserves accolades for his direction (especially having to put up with an uncooperative mechanical shark named Bruce), in addition, Verna Fields received an Oscar for her excellent film editing work on the film. Without her excellent editing decisions, the film's thrilling pacing may have suffered and it may not have thrilled audiences then and now.

The Blu-ray Disc release of this film is top notch. The video and audio have been meticulously remastered and transferred to Blu-ray that results in a home theater viewing experience that superior that the original theatrical presentation.

Also, not only does the film look and sound better than it has since its original theatrical release, but the inclusion of both old bonus features from previous home video releases, in combination with new material produced specifically for this new Blu-ray release provides an excellent perspective on the film as it has been perceived throughout the years.

It is hard to believe it has been about 40 years since Bruce, the Shark, scared the pants off movie goers, and although there have been dozens of copycats through the years, in my opinion, Jaws is still the best and deserves a spot in your Blu-ray Disc collection.

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